jus­tice for All?

If le­gal­iza­tion has taught us any­thing, it’s that we can’t leave it up to politi­cians to solve prob­lems with our crim­i­nal laws

NOW Magazine - - CANNABIS NOW - By LAURA YOUNG News@nowtoronto.com | @nowtoronto

Wel­come to the world of le­gal­ized pot. I’ve been work­ing in the trenches help­ing to spur changes to moral­ity laws for more than 15 years. I’m not a pot smoker and when I started out I was not fi­nan­cially in­vested in pot. I was raised deeply im­mersed in re­li­gion on a farm north of Toronto. I’d al­ways vol­un­teered for good causes, but mostly with the lo­cal con­gre­ga­tions. Meet­ing Os­goode Hall law pro­fes­sor Alan Young changed my view­son moral­ity.

I first worked for Alan gath­er­ing per­mis­sions for the book he was writ­ing – Jus­tice De­filed: Per­verts, Pot­heads, Se­rial Killers & Lawyers. We were also dat­ing. His in­sights into clas­si­cal

mu­sic, painters, philoso­phers and crim­i­nal law were rock­ing my world.

I was dis­il­lu­sioned with or­ga­nized re­li­gion, but I still felt a deep in­ner sense of moral­ity. Though Alan talked about pot, pros­ti­tu­tion and civil dis­obe­di­ence and scorned cer­tain ma­jor or­ga­nized reli­gions, I felt he had a deep sense of moral­ity, too.

After a din­ner break one night, Alan got a call: the Toronto Com­pas­sion Club had been raided by po­lice. On his way out the door, he tossed the phone book at me and said, “Call the me­dia.” And so be­gan my years-long ef­forts on be­half of Alan’s pro bono work and his client’s causes.

The first call I made was to the Globe and Mail. I re­lated to Camp­bell Clark, who al­ready knew of Alan’s

We’ve been ham­strung by our naive be­lief that if only gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials un­der­stood the hu­man car­nage caused by bad laws, they’d do some­thing about it.

work, why it was a trav­esty that these nice young men were in jail for de­liv­er­ing pot to AIDS and can­cer pa­tients. And wasn’t it sus­pi­cious that the raid came at the time that they were all named as plain­tiffs in Alan’s con­sti­tu­tional chal­lenge to Canada’s med­i­cal mar­i­juana laws?

The next day, a num­ber of re­porters were camped out in front of Old City Hall, wait­ing to get shots of War­ren Hitzig, Dom Cramer and Zack Naftolin.

When the boys were fi­nally re­leased, they were feel­ing down after a night in a jail cell. They were con­cerned their par­ents and friends would be dis­ap­pointed. I pre­sented to them two fu­tures: they could slink out the back door, know­ing that their hearts had been pure and they were work­ing for a good cause, and carry the bur­den of be­ing mis­un­der­stood by friends and fam­ily; or they could walk out the front door. They emerged on the front steps to the cheers of their sup­port­ers, de­fi­ant and pump­ing their fists.

Alan and I even­tu­ally got mar­ried and I got to know a num­ber of pro­duc­tive and in­ter­est­ing peo­ple who suf­fered im­mensely from the in­tru­sive­ness and vi­o­lence of laws be­cause of the life­style choices. I held down the home front while Alan launched chal­lenges to pot and pros­ti­tu­tion laws and helped scores of peo­ple caught up in moral­ity laws. He chan­nelled his pro bono work through Os­goode Hall Law School’s In­no­cence Project and re­lied on stu­dents who came and went. I “worked the me­dia,” and be­came a sound­ing board and or­ga­nizer for some of Alan’s clients and wit­nesses who were ham­strung in their naive be­lief that if only gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials “un­der­stood” the hu­man car­nage of bad laws, they would ac­tu­ally do some- thing about it. They had wasted too much en­ergy speak­ing pri­vately to mostly two-faced politi­cians rather than bring­ing their rea­soned thoughts to the sphere of demo­cratic de­bate. I en­cour­aged them to speak out.

I un­der­stood the mes­sages that res­onated with the so-called moral ma­jor­ity, about drugs, pros­ti­tu­tion and the per­ceived com­fort­ing aura of be­nign gov­ern­ment benev­o­lence. I tested these mes­sages in the school­yard with moms, dads and grand­mas while our son played with his class­mates. Es­pe­cially help­ful was a prim and proper Greek grandma who would ap­proach me ev­ery time Alan was quoted in the Globe. “Your hus­band is so smart!” she would of­ten say. Alan was just bring­ing com­mon sense to law and gov­ern­ment spin that for decades had us be­liev­ing ridicu­lous ideas about drug use based on false­hoods. I had a sim­i­lar story. In 1972, the Toronto Sun cov­ered news of my mother’s stab­bing in her Rochdale apart­ment at Bloor and Huron. But the ac­tual court tran­scripts tell a dif­fer­ent story. My mom was mur­dered by some­one she knew dur­ing an ar­gu­ment. The po­lice, me­dia, politi­cians and mem­bers of ma­jor churches, all took ad­van­tage of the op­por­tu­nity to twist the story to fit their War on Drugs nar­ra­tive.

As I cel­e­brate the com­ing le­gal­iza­tion and what I hope is the end of Reefer Mad­ness, I won­der about the fam­i­lies that have been swayed by gov­ern­ment pro­pa­ganda and ac­cepted the crim­i­nal­iza­tion of their loved ones for what is com­pletely nor­mal be­hav­iour, es­pe­cially in times of per­sonal cri­sis or the ex­per­i­men­tal pe­riod of youth.

Alan re­tired from Os­goode Hall Law School in July and has passed on the In­no­cence Project to an ex­cep­tion­ally tal­ented and pas­sion­ate young lawyer, Bha­van Sodhi, who in a few short months has cre­ated a net­work of In­no­cence Project groups at univer­si­ties across Canada.

If le­gal­iza­tion has taught us any­thing, it’s that we can’t leave crim­i­nal law to politi­cians.

We must am­plify the voices of those harmed by gov­ern­ment laws and in­ep­ti­tude, whether you’re a crim­i­nal lawyer, ac­tivist, jour­nal­ist or just a con­cerned ci­ti­zen.

Cannabis le­gal­iza­tion doesn’t mean the war on drugs is over.

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